Why E-commerce Needs to Look Beyond the Shopping Cart

12/10/2017 04:24 pm ET

People are shopping online more than ever before, but businesses that fail to fully embrace technology will be left out in the cold.

In the run-up to Cyber Week, experts were already predicting a huge holiday season for e-commerce, but with Black Friday and Cyber Monday now behind us and Christmas just over two weeks away, it is safe to say that 2017 is shaping up to be a record-breaking year, especially for mobile.

The National Retail Federation reported that 81 million U.S. residents shopped online on Cyber Monday, compared with 66 million on Black Friday. According to Bigcommerce, an e-commerce platform which serves thousands of merchants worldwide, during Cyber Five, the five-day shopping period spanning Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday, brands using their services experienced an average sales increase of 21%, which is 4% above the industry average.

This was also the first year in which mobile orders surpassed desktop sales volume during Cyber Five. In 2016, 54% of orders were on desktop devices, and 46% originated from mobile devices. In 2017, mobile orders accounted for 54% of all orders, surpassing desktop on all Cyber Week days. The data also revealed that iPhone users spent 7.1% more during Cyber Five than Android users.

Cyber Monday was in fact the biggest sales day for online and for mobile ever in the US. While online sales amounted to a total of $6.59 billion mobile broke a new record by reaching $2 billion. The Verge reported that mobile also dominated over desktop for the first time for Shopify merchants, which include brands as varied as Tesla Motors and Kylie Cosmetics, according to the company.

These numbers tell an interesting story, because they illustrate how far consumer behaviour has shifted in recent years. People now have different expectations of how technology should enable shopping experiences, and businesses that don’t meet those expectations will inevitably lose sales.

None of this happened overnight, of course. Brands have long been investing in ways to leverage data to build customer profiles, inform their marketing strategy and outreach, and refine their sales funnels. But the capacity to extract actionable insights from large datasets was traditionally reserved for bigger companies such as Amazon, who had the vast resources required to dedicate to this. Advances in AI and machine learning have, however, democratized access to such insights and tools, and started to level out the playing field.

And this, according to Jimmy Duvall, BigCommerce’s Chief Product Officer, is a key part of the value that platforms such as his can offer to smaller merchants, equipping them with the tools and insights that allow them to offer experiences on par with the likes of Amazon.

“BigCommerce looks at same-store sales to determine the real increase in revenue and orders data year over year for ecommerce brands on the platform with insights into category-specific insights, device trends and purchase activity by region,” he explained. “The significant increase in same-store sales this year further highlights that small and mid-sized retailers continue to thrive, even as Amazon and other industry heavyweights expand into new markets and categories. We fully expect this to be the biggest and most successful online selling season in history.”

This doesn’t mean that smaller merchants are only in competition with larger platforms such as Amazon, Google Shopping or Ebay, however. We live in an age where consumers demand omnichannel experiences, and e-commerce platforms need to provide an open architecture that can be seamlessly connected to other business applications, reducing complexity and operational costs for merchants wherever possible. In practice, that means that merchants can use a single product catalogue to sell their wares across a variety of channels in a frictionless way.

Steve Fusco, vice president and general manager of global distribution at PayPal, says they thrive on this collaborative approach, which means, for example, that BigCommerce supports services such as PayPal One Touch, which boasts an enviable conversion rate of 87.5%.

This year, however, merchants also gained access to data from PayPal Marketing Solutions, which provides insight into customers’ buying behaviours and lets merchants add customized banners to their online stores.

“BigCommerce and PayPal have much in common at the core of our businesses,” said Fusco in a statement, “and through our expanded relationship we are delivering access to fully integrated products and services that help merchants increase sales and average order value.”

Offering customers an array of choices not only in terms of product, but financing, has been one of the key factors in this explosive sales growth. “Since offering PayPal Credit, we’ve seen a significant increase in orders and conversion with lower cart abandonment rates,” said Abe Issa, CEO of Florida-based online retailer DealBeds.com.

E-commerce is being driven by insight, and brands both great and small are embracing data to reflect their customer needs and by giving their customers what they want, reap the financial rewards of site experience enhancement, optimised checkout and platform modernization.

Data creates opportunities to improve in-store experiences and make customer service provision more agile and efficient. As platforms continue to integrate big data into their offering, we will continue to see the consumer journey improve across all sectors. The adoption of the developing mobile and AI technologies will increasingly enable retailers to deliver experiences that are perfectly tailored to each customer and market.

The future of retail is doubtless going to be immersive, experiential, and personalised, and that paints a bright picture for businesses that embrace technology and innovation.

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